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Book review: A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

It was interesting to read Kate Grenville’s historical fiction about the settlers’ experience of Australia straight after finishing Hannah Kent’s Devotion.

In Kent’s book, a religious community arrives in South Australia and settles Hanhdorf.

A Room Made of Leaves centres on the experience of the wife of the notorious John Macarthur, Elizabeth, who amassed great wealth in the early days of settlement.

His wife tells her own story of encounters with Australia’s Indigenous inhabitants, her feelings about her situation and the way she makes a bearable life in this unfamiliar land.

Grenville uses Elizabeth’s story to question who gets to write history, whose stories are told and whether those stories are true.

Hers was a fascinating voice and story, and the telling of it – even in the form of fiction – is a reminder of how much lies beneath official histories. The book asks about truth and whose history is written and remembered.

I love Grenville’s melding of fact with fiction, as she did in The Secret River. I feel it helps me understand more about the history of Australia, in all its sometimes uncomfortable complexity.

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